OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Thursday he has a back to school plan for protecting teachers and students in the classroom, but some teachers tell KFOR they’re still worried.
Stitt says he is pushing for in-person instruction this fall, announcing he is pulling $10 million from the CARES Act to ship personal protective equipment, or PPE, to all Oklahoma schools.
Based on requests from the State Department of Education, Stitt says the state will be providing 1.7 million reusable masks, 42,000 clear face shields, 1.2 million pairs of gloves and 1.2 million disposable gowns. Two masks will be provided to each student and 2 masks will be given to each teacher.
Stitt said more information on how schools will pick up PPE will come in the next few days. But the state wants it all distributed by Aug. 14.
“What about the kid who has a positive COVID-19 test who comes back to school after 14 days and finds out his teacher dies?” 8th grade teacher Nadine Gallagher asked.
Metro teacher and president of the Crooked Oak Association of Classroom Teachers Nadine Gallagher told KFOR she is terrified to go back to her classroom.
“Oklahoma has an older teacher population and it gives me no joy to say I am part of that,” Gallagher said.
Thursday, Stitt held his first in-person press conference since recovering from COVID-19.
“Our kids cannot miss another year of school,” Stitt said.
Stitt also announced he plans to have teachers tested for COVID-19 every month.
“I’m signing an executive order today, directing the State Health Department to work with the Department of Education to come up with a plan to test our teachers on a monthly basis,” Stitt said.
Details on the funding for the testing are still up in the air.
Dover Public Schools, who houses 170 students, claims they’re ready to open their doors for school.
“We have a lot to make up in our school district,” Dover Superintendent Max Thomas said.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest provided the following response to Stitt’s plan to spend $10 million in CARES Act funds on PPE for schools:
“We’re grateful that the governor will provide schools with some personal protective equipment, something OEA recommended weeks ago. Districts have been scrambling to make these purchases for months, but we’ll take it.
However, districts, educators, and students have had an even more difficult time finding cleaning supplies — something the governor said he hasn’t even considered. That’s alarming.
This is what CARES Act money should be spent on — not vouchers.
We’re glad the governor has come to realize how important public schools are to our children and our communities. We’re teachers. We know the value of teaching in person. We know the kids whose only meal comes from their public school. We know the kids whose school is their safe space and are scared to go home.
If you care about education professionals who dedicate their lives to these essential services, please listen to them. Many teachers and staff face an impossible choice: Put themselves and their families at risk or leave the work they love.
We know the consequences of keeping schools closed. We’re the ones who have spent the past four and a half months working to mitigate those consequences. However, there are consequences to Governor Stitt’s delayed decisions and refusal to listen to the experts in health and in the classroom.
This is a good first step, but the clock is ticking.”Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest
Stitt is also in the federal spotlight this week after a U.S. House Oversight panel sent Stitt a letter stating that Oklahoma was not in compliance with recommendations by the Congressional subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis for COVID-19 response.
The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. James Clyburn (D – S.C.) is now asking for documents. The documents being requested deal with Oklahoma’s guidance in their response to the pandemic, their past and current decisions and any future plans they have to combat the pandemic.
Stitt said he’s sticking by the state’s color coded COVID-19 system. Oklahoma County and Tulsa County are in orange on the map.
“We are making the best decisions and facts for here in Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
“They are saying we are in the red zone, but yet we don’t have any red on that color coded map, so are you saying they are wrong?” KFOR Reporter Peyton Yager asked.
“That subcommittee inside Congress is trying to make a political statement against the president or our state,” Stitt said. “I don’t know where it’s coming from.”
Stitt says he will be complying with the request from the congressional subcommittee. Stitt was also asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask during the news conference on Thursday.
“Well, I’ve already had COVID-19,” Stitt said.
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